TES Interview

Don’t be ‘selfish’, former Blair adviser warns academies

International expert urges academies not to be overly competitive, telling them: ‘Don’t get good at a bad game’

A former adviser to Tony Blair has warned academies that competing for pupils, instead of collaborating with other schools, is “selfish” and “self-defeating”.

International education expert Michael Fullan used a conference speech today to warn academies: “Don’t get good at a bad game.”

Speaking at the Inspiring Leadership Conference in Birmingham, he also urged school leaders to play an active role in shaping national policy decisions on issues such as teacher recruitment and retention.

He said that education in England was at a watershed moment in 2018 and needed groups of schools in the middle of the system to lead change.

He told his audience that, as local authorities had dissipated out of the picture, it was important that groups of schools in academy trusts worked together.

But Mr Fullan described the academies programme as patchy, adding: “Some of them are good and some of them are not. Or even if they are good within an academy they are not necessarily strengthening the middle ladder.”

“If an academy group has, say, nine schools and it is selfishly intra-developing – if it sees itself as competitive and therefore ‘our version is going to better than other versions’ – that is self-defeating.

“If people say, ‘I don’t want to collaborate’ because there is a competition for students and enrolment…I can tell you: Don’t get good at a bad game.”

Mr Fullan is the global leadership director of the international group New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, which works to support school systems in seven countries including Canada, the United States, Australia and Uruguay.

He said schools had to contribute to the “bigger picture”.

He added: “To put if forcefully, school principals as part of the job description have responsibilities to help other schools improve and to learn from other schools. It’s non-negotiable.”

He told delegates that system change has to come from the middle, and urged heads to try to shape school policy.

He said: “Is this time in England now, for those of you who are working in the middle and know what success looks like, for you to influence some degree of policy over the next 24 months?

“Policy for example on teacher shortages, on retention and what are the dos and don’t of assessment.

“If not now, then when? Because, as I have said, this stuff is very dangerous – it could fall apart. And what is going to save it is the middle getting stronger.”

The Inspiring Leadership conference has taken place over two days in Birmingham, organised by the ASCL and the NAHT unions.

Speaking to Tes last year, Mr Fullan warned that the school system was sapping teacher morale and turning pupils off learning.

One thought on “TES Interview

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